Back in the mid-1950s, Danelectro founder Nathan ‘Nat’ Daniel set out to build the highest quality guitar he could for the least possible cash.
Ignoring convention, he designed a bolt-neck, semi-hollow electric with a body built from Masonite hardboard attached to a poplar frame. This was to be a guitar for the masses, affordable and, more importantly, playable.
Since he was a ceaseless innovator, not to mention a bit of genius when it came to this sort of thing, Daniel’s bargain-basement guitars nevertheless boasted some advanced features, like electrically shielded circuitry and unique ‘lipstick’ pickups.
He also developed the first six-string electric bass, the first electric 12-string and the electric sitar, but as you might expect, there were many more designs that never made it into production. One such model was the ‘Swept Wing’, a one-off prototype that has now been recreated as the Wild Thing.
The present-day Danelectro company recently decided to go back to basics, trimming the range down to a handful of more faithful reissues, produced in shorter runs. In this context, ‘reissuing’ such an off-the-wall model – one that was never actually manufactured in the first place – is an interesting decision, but Dano enthusiasts will be delighted to see this obscure part of the company’s history brought back to life.
With its vibrant candy apple red finish, the review guitar looks very much alive – we’re not sure whether those extravagant horns are more reminiscent of crashing waves or the flickering flames of a wildfire. In a funny way, they also bring to mind the BC Rich Mockingbird, which, of course, didn’t arrive until the mid-’70s, reminding us once again that there’s nothing new under the sun.
Below those wavy horns, things are reassuringly familiar. The top and back are Masonite, with an unspecified wood laminate used for the solid frame running around the edge of the body and for the solid centre block. Other faithful nods to the past include the side binding tape (complete with ostrich hide pattern), thick hardboard scratchplate, aluminium nut and ‘coke bottle’ headstock outline.
The neck feels like a bit of a departure from recent Danelectro fare, with a gloss rather than satin finish and a comfortable C-shaped profile that, while a little flatter than past examples, is no less playable. The frets are fairly low but very neatly finished, and the setup on the review model is excellent. As with the near-faultless all-over candy apple red paint job, these things are really great to find on such an affordable guitar.
The vintage Danelectro bridge design is devastatingly simple, with screws either side for height adjustment and a rosewood saddle that can be angled for intonation by loosening a screw underneath. Meanwhile, the strings are anchored by simple notches at the rear, which can make string changes a little on the fiddly side.
The Wild Thing’s reproduction ‘lipstick’ single-coils are wired to a three-way selector switch and a pair of dual-concentric dials. The lower rings, in matching candy apple red, control volume while the top knobs – which are rather too easy to pull off – control the tone.
Unplugged, the Wild Thing sounds loud and full with plenty of sustain. There’s also a hint of acoustic-y thrum and jangle – classic Danelectro and, we suspect, just as much a product of the simple, vibey rosewood saddle as the body construction.
Plugged in, the bridge pickup delivers bright, clear tone. This is obviously not the place to come for warm, bluesy sustain, but it’s great for percussive low riffs in a surf guitar style and, indeed, all manner of rhythm and lead work where plenty of sparkle and definition are required. The neck pickup (in fact positioned closer to what you’d call ‘middle’ on most guitars) is a little mellower and broader in character, but with the same bright, clear attack.
These ‘lipstick’ single-coils are wound to a vintage-correct 3.5k ohm DC resistance. Far from sounding weedy, this instead offers a clear, airy tone, a little light on low end but never thin or shrill. Lowering the pickups will reduce top-end jangle, though you’ll want to keep the bridge pickup screwed fairly high to achieve a reasonable volume balance with its partner.
As is traditional with Danos, in the centre switch position the pickups are wired in series rather than parallel, delivering a louder, beefier tone. It’s like having a built-in boost, and you’ll find this middle position the most satisfying and versatile in higher gain contexts.
The Wild Thing’s exuberant body shape may be a deal-breaker for many. It’s really grown on us, but if it’s simply not for you, then that’s that. Danelectros in general do tend to divide guitarists into two groups – those who just don’t get the appeal and those who do – but anyone in the latter camp will find plenty to enjoy here. Besides the selection of wiry old-fashioned tones, which make up for their lack of versatility with extra helpings of character, playability is really very good and this feels like a well-made guitar all round. Though some of the materials used are admittedly inexpensive, the standard of build, finishing and setup is very impressive at this price. While this is far from the no-frills beginner’s axe first imagined by Nat Daniel, the Wild Thing lives up to his vision of genuine quality at an affordable price.